When Kyle Murray-Smith netted the game-winning goal with 34.1 seconds left in overtime, his teammates couldn’t hold back their excitement.
The Hanover Wild were New Hampshire state champions and were headed to the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships.
It’s the first time in program history a team will play for a national title.
“I think it’s huge for the program; it kind of puts us on the map,” Wild coach Peter Scalia said. “In terms of the state, we’ve always played against bigger teams like Manchester and Concord and we’re kind of like an afterthought. Now this success we’ve had this season puts us on the forefront of peoples’ minds and the community, which is great for our program.”
There isn’t a single player on the team who has experienced competing at nationals. The kids are looking forward to their shot.
“They’re so pumped,” Scalia said. “They haven’t stopped smiling every day for practice but I don’t think it’s sunk in just yet. But they’ve worked so hard and earned everything they’ve received. I’m really happy for them.”
The Wild went into the state tournament playing a bit of an underdog role with the Manchester Flames the favorites, noted Scalia.
In round-robin play, the Wild defeated the New Hampshire East Eagles 6-3 on March 1 and the next day downed the Upper Valley Storm 3-1 at the Merrill Fay Arena in Laconia, New Hampshire.
In the semifinals on March 3, Hanover had a 2-0 lead, but Concord tied the game with .5 seconds left on the clock.
“But the kids really battled through the adversity and scored the winning goal just a couple shifts into overtime,” Scalia said. “I think it was an emotional game, but nothing fazes my kids. They’re really amazing and they put it all together in the finals. We stuck with a really good hockey team.”
Team captain Alex Rockmore scored the game winner just a few minutes into the extra session.
Riding a high from scoring the overtime victory, the Wild played well against the Flames in the title game. Murray-Smith had a goal in regulation that sent the game to overtime at 1-1. With time winding down in the first overtime, Murray-Smith netted the winning tally.
Playing a pair of elimination overtime games in the same day was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Wild players and coaches.
“It was mentally and emotionally draining, but the pure joy on those kids’ faces in that overtime victory was just awesome,” Scalia said. “I don’t have any kids, so it’s all worth it when you see the joy and happiness on those kids’ faces at the end of it all. It was unreal.”
The Wild have just 13 skaters and two goalies on its team, but the guys didn’t let a short bench get the best of them.
“It speaks volumes about their determination and most of all their work ethic,” Scalia said. “They really understand what it takes to get to the next level and I can’t say enough about my players. To say I’m proud would be an understatement.”
Scalia has used balanced scoring and solid goaltending all season. The team has the ability to turn it up on both ends of the ice.
“I think it depends on the game and the opponent,” Scalia said. “I think because these kids are so coachable and so disciplined, it’s really easy for me to coach the different concepts in all three zones and they pick it up really quickly because they’re so smart.”
During the state tournament, Scalia used both his goalies Luke Ives and Robert Masson. But when it came time for the semifinals and finals, Scalia went with the hot hand Ives.
“He was outstanding,” Scalia said. “In the final, we gave up a penalty shot and he stopped it in the second period and that completely changed the game for us. After that we knew we had an opportunity to win the game thanks to his goaltending.”
Scalia is preparing his players for nationals in South Bend, Indiana, where he expects the guys to compete well. Just like all season long, the Wild will embrace the underdog role.
“I think that because of the quality of kids that I have we have an opportunity to do well,” Scalia said. “We have no idea what to expect in terms of the competition, which teams that qualified. I just want these kids to have a blast, enjoy the experience and I know they’re going to remember it for the rest of their lives — just soak it all in.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.